In the first few days of March, a freak windstorm used a dying ash tree to create mayhem in our lives. The roof came out of that attack with over twenty holes, some of which came right through the ceiling. The chimney was cracked. The deck lost railings. Supporting beams were split and the seals on the windows that make up one wall of the living room were all popped.
Chaos and condensation reigned. The only happy creatures were the stink bugs, who staged an early spring orgy in the apex of my ceiling and never felt the need to take it outside.
The good news in the midst of the not-so-good was that no one was hurt, the insurance company was sympathetic, and it all looked fixable – but this little question of ‘when’ couldn’t quite be answered. There were overwhelming numbers of people suffering the same issues after the same storm, and as the spring went on, even more joined the ranks.
In the interim between the storm and the work commencing, I was so anxious to get the process started, I never really contemplated how much damage might be caused to a landscape that leaves little in the way of void spaces near the house.
I continued not to contemplate this right up till the day the masons came to deliver five pallets of bricks and mortar with a truck that could barely navigate my road, much less my driveway and the plants around it.
The scales lifted and I began to look around the house with its ridiculously high-maintenance landscape. How on earth was this going to work?!?
Two weeks later and we are still in the midst of renovation, but I’ve learned a few lessons from the process and feel a lot calmer about the weeks ahead. Whether you’re having a fence built or a whole new extension added to your home, here are my top ten tips for making the process a lot less upsetting:
1) Talk to your contractor from the very beginning about your plants.
Contractors and their crews have to deal with a lot of really difficult people (I’ve heard many stories over the years). When you are not one of them, you stand out and make their job a lot more pleasant.
Be firm, but kind. Stand up for your plants, but do so with a smile on your face and the knowledge that to most people who don’t understand plants, you’re the weird one. Throw a few sheepish grins out there, mention something about ‘passion’ or ‘reason for living,’ but don’t be afraid to speak up.
2) Walk with your contractor or work chief around the entire area
Don’t assume that he or she knows what an edgeworthia is – or even a hosta. Talk in terms of ‘flowers’ or ‘plant with yellow leaves.’ Making a quick diagram of the area is also helpful (though I never got around to this step).
3) Give the work crews plenty of options
You don’t want to put work crews in strait jackets so they can’t do their jobs or get so annoyed that they start taking major short cuts and blame you. Give them lots of areas where demolition material can be thrown. Any open space is fair game – even if it’s your pristine lawn. That’s what tarps are for.
4) Make some tough decisions
Unless you’re living in new construction and the trucks/equipment/crews are merely out there to correct all the many things wrong with new construction in that first year (did I type that out loud?), you’ve got plants at risk and you can’t save all of them. Figure out what will be set back irreparably or killed vs. those that will merely need to wait for another season to look as good as new. Point out the really precious ones but don’t point out too many.
5) Move things you can’t replace easily
This is a last option for the desperate, and tough in the middle of a hot week like this one, but plants can be dug and temporarily heeled into a large pile of moist compost until you can re-plant them. If it looks like there is no way around a case of Sudden Plant Death Syndrome due to crushing forces beyond your control, move them and keep them watered.
6) Be realistic about the things you can’t replace easily
This takes a little perspective, which is something in short supply when temperatures are hot and so are tempers.
It’s. Just. A. Plant.
You may need to read that one more time, but seriously folks, it really is.
7) Ask to keep one of the contractor’s magnet rake for at least a couple weeks after the renovation.
Nails are everywhere and even if you have the best contractors in town, they get by. And by virtue of your job as a gardener, you are likely to be the first to encounter them. Take a little time and use that high-powered magnet in the morning to work through your planting beds (where they were probably too afraid of you to step) to find those nails before they find you.
8) Be kind.
It costs very little to offer a pitcher of ice water or a plate of cookies to crews working their tails off in hot sun or freezing wind, and it’s the right thing to do. If you are home, or work from home, offer some.
9) Keep dialogue open
Continue to walk your property with your contractor with any big concerns you may be seeing regarding your landscape, but don’t be overly precious.
10) Keep smiling
If you’re going through this process, it means that you are eventually going to experience an improvement in your living space. Whether it’s a new roof, a new deck or a repaired foundation – there is a big silver lining. Focus on that when you’re feeling down. If you’re having a hard time finding that serenity, ask a friend who is probably fairly envious you’re having work done of any kind and will be the first to tell you to shut up and get over it. We need those friends in our lives.